February 4, 2009
Review from Continuo
A founding member of the Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine, Joseph Nechvatal (b1951) famously curated two noise compilations for Tellus in 1986 and 1988. He composed an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-5) with Rhys Chatham. His visual and sound works since then has been concerned with ‘viral’ techniques, ie: computer-assisted complex structures, heavily processed material, unwanted input corrupting the media and a general self-annihilation of the artist as composer/painter. The computer is summoned to create the art in the same way the Golem was raised by Rabbi Löw to create the myth. Viral Symphony’s First Movement was published on CD in 2006 by The Institute for Electronic Arts. The rest of the symphony is derived from this 1st Mvt in variously processed textures. The 2nd and 3rd Movements include the voice of Jane Smith reading from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, an apt metaphor for a Symphony dealing with permanent mutability, in as much as the perpetually morphing sound particles are used as the very structure of the work. While the 1st Mvt is a cornucopia of noisy, aleatoric electronic debris in the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ tradition, the remaining movements are more ambient affairs in which compositional mystery and sonic restraint create tension and captivates the listener. It seems the electronic sounds were refined after the nth re-processing and when reaching the 4th Mvt it’s become a mere distant static. The processed vocal parts sounds like early radio transmissions, and I personally envisionned Ezra Pound on conversation on Italian Radio or a BBC broadcast during the 1930s, while he was working on his 2 radio operas. In the last 2 movements, the input of Kevin Harkins on Midi sounds brings a neo-gothic touch to the music thanks to his endless cello and piano arpeggios. PostMortem is the most poignant part of the Symphony, its processed sounds slowly recessing in the background leaving room to sadness and emptyness. PostMortem appears for the first time on the web thanks to the generosity of Joseph Nechvatal. The very nature of the Viral Symphony indicates there will be additional movements soon and the ‘Complete’ set is presented as is, prior to further re-processing.